30 years ago in college I was in love with a woman and never did much about it. A few years later, during my grad school time, I was in love with another woman and actually touched her a lot, which was a very nice combination. And I told myself that this was the first time I had ever been in love. Then a few years after that I fell in love for a second time -- but let me revise that: for a third time. The woman in grad school was the second time. 30 years ago was the first time.
We were friends, she and I, or, at least, friends of friends. Groups of us got together now and then and drank some beer and ate some pizza, groups occasionally containing both she and I. During those get-togethers she and I did just a very little bit of snuggling. I don't think I ever kissed her, not once, and I don't think she ever kissed me. I think that if there had ever been so much as a kiss on the cheek given or received, I would've had shivers from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, and I would've thought about it every day for the last 30 years.
While we were both in college, she had some relationships with other men, relationships which, at least so it seemed to me, lasted for a long time. And I dated some women and it usually fizzled out very quickly. But even if I was going to wait until she was uninvolved before I tried to get something started with her, there was definitely at least one such window of opportunity when she was clearly unattached. A couple of times I started to make a bumbling pass at her, and both times I backed down in an even more bumbling manner, with my heart pounding.
I don't know how she felt about me. People make comments all the time and I don't know how to interpret them -- it's called autism. People also engage inn a great deal of non-verbal communication, most of which I miss entirely -- autism again. Back then, people did and said some things, and I've been wondering for 30 years what they meant.
Like a couple of those times when that group of us went out for beer and pizza. Once I massaged her shoulders for a little while, and people looked at the two of us and laughed, and someone commented, "You know that expression a cat gets on its face when it's being petted?" and a lot of people laughed. She had her back to me and I couldn't see the expression on her face at that moment. I'm not completely sure whether whoever was talking was talking about the expression on her face, or the expression on my face.
Another time with that group, people were talking about the shape of her head, and she said that the angle where the bridge of her nose met her forehead was "the perfect shape to do this," and she laid her head on my shoulder and the angle fit like a puzzle-piece on the corner of my shoulder. What should I have made of that? Nothing? Everything?
I don't know how she felt about me, or whether she gave me much thought at all, and I don't know how obvious it was that I adored her. Since being diagnosed as autistic in 2007, and having had some psychotherapy since 2010 with therapists specializing in autism, I've come to realize that for much of my life I've engaged in a very bad habit of pretending that I know what's going on in social situations. Starting long before the diagnosis, sometimes I considered saying to someone or other: "Look. I'm stupid. You may not have any idea how stupid. Please explain this to me like I'm 5 years old, because I have no idea what's going on."
For example, a friend of mine once got visibly frustrated with my moping -- visibly even to me -- and said that half of the women in the neighborhood wouldn't mind being with me. For 30 years I've been wondering what to make of that. Was he saying that this woman I was in love with was just waiting around for me to do something about it? Or that I should stop being miserable about her because plenty of other women were interested? Or was he angry because he secretly -- or maybe not so secretly, but just invisibly to me -- had feelings for the same woman, but thought my chances with her were better than his? For all I know, he might have been upset because he was in love with me. I have no idea how anybody felt about anybody.
At the time, I didn't put his remark together with this particular woman at all. And I'm not sure whether his remark had anything at all to do with her. I don't know whether he had any idea how I felt about her. It could have been obvious to a lot of people that I was in love with her, or maybe nobody had the slightest idea. Maybe she could see it and she returned the feelings, maybe she was flattered but uninterested, maybe she was appalled and really, really not interested, and let me rub her shoulders once in 4 years out of pity because she wasn't completely cold-hearted, and our group of friends easily saw right through me, and to them the two of us looked sweet and touching, like Esmeralda and Quasimodo.
Anyhow, the reason I realize now that I was in love with her back then is because I dreamed about her last night. I dreamed that there was a huge, very interesting-looking bookstore in my neighborhood which I had passed countless times, but for some reason I had never gone in. (I'm a real bookworm. In my entire life, there have been either few bookstores, or none, which I've walked past as many as 2 times without going in. Including newsstands at airports which sell books.) (Maybe going into the bookstore symbolizes expressing my emotions?) So in my dream, finally I went in -- and there she was, manning one of the store's many cash registers. Her register was by itself as opposed to being one in a row of registers. It was enclosed on 2 sides by walls covered with books and other merchandise.
She and I chatted pleasantly, and occasionally she rang people up. She seemed to have been doing this job for a while, she seemed to be in command of her turf. Once she chased a couple of men out of the store, twins in matching pinstriped suits and bowler hats, because she could tell, somehow, that they were pickpockets.
She had to go off to another part of the store. I waited by her station. A good-looking couple, a man in a suit and a woman in a dress, clearly not store staff, sat down in her station. He sat down in a swivel chair and she sat in his lap. I was a little indignant at them for invading her station. She reached for the phone next to the register, an old phone on a cord, held the receiver to her ear for a while, but didn't dial. I was about to confront them and chase them away, but shortly after the woman's strange behavior with the phone they got up and walked away. Only after they were gone to it occur to me that the woman's behavior with the phone might have been done to distract people from something else, like the man stuffing his pockets with merchandise.
There were 2 small steps leading up from the store floor to her station. I sat down on those steps. I decided that when she came back I was going to open up to her about my feelings for her. I got very nervous. I put my hands over my face and began to cry. Then I heard her voice. She was scolding and chasing away another would-be pickpocket. Then I woke up.